Lamps from childhood: classic or creepy?

Joan Fieldstone

May 14, 2014

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior Design

The recent popularity of Facebook's "throwback Thursdays" has me rummaging through my boxes and bags of old photographs to find something I wouldn't be embarrassed to share with friends and strangers online. Some of us have fond memories of childhood. Others, not so much. It all has to do with your perspective.

As a seven-year-old with missing front teeth and "cat glasses," I did not look like the movie star my mother said I did. My mother, on the other hand, always appeared fashionable in these photos, and she dressed me in outfits I'm sure she thought were darling, but they made me itchy and afraid to be seen.

The fact is that what our parents found pleasing, we usually didn't. So out of curiosity, I began to take notice of the decor in the backgrounds of these old family photos to more accurately recall my mother's early decorating taste. And what did I see? Lamps, the likes of which today you can find only in secondhand furniture shops and antique malls, growing dusty. Some of them are downright scary.

"You…you light up my life" -- not!

It's interesting how we remember our childhood through a veil of nostalgia. I had this lamp custom made to mimic what I thought reminded me of the lamp styles of my formative years.

turquoise lamp

I don't know where I dreamed up that lamp, but the following actual lamps I grew up with, which probably span the '40s through the '60s, bear absolutely no resemblance to it -- except for a standing lamp with the same spiral, barrel shape, which was mostly hidden in the one photo I found of it.

First, there was the belly dancer lamp.

vintage lamp

I remember this one was a favorite of my grandmother. I will forever associate it with her -- not that my grandmother did any belly dancing while I knew her, but she had a sense of fun that leads me to believe she might have -- had she been born a generation or two later. She lived with us for my first decade of life, and when she moved out, this lamp went with her.

vintage lamp

The harlequin lamp was pink -- which you sadly can't see from a black and white photo -- and the clown in its colorful, diamond-patterned costume wrapped around the trunk of it. Harlequins must have been all the rage back in the '50s -- as well as pink and mauve. Our house had dusty pink walls and carpeting to match.

vintage lamp

Of all the lamps of my childhood, I probably remember this one best because my mother made such a big deal about it, on the level of how excited some people get when a new iPhone hits the market today. Of all the things you could do with a natural piece of sun-bleached driftwood, this is about the last I would expect. Come on! Gold polka-dots? It sat on a marble-topped console table in our foyer -- one of the first things guests saw as they walked through the front door. I liked leaving tiny, folded notes in its hollows. Perhaps the next master of the lamp found one, like a message in a bottle.

Vintage lamp

Finally, there is this ornate table lamp that appears to be from the mid-to-late 1960s, although it looks like it belongs in the Palace of Versailles. This was from my mother's French and Italian provincial phase, when we spent a muggy, summer's day traipsing around New York City in search of an equally ornate mirror to go with the new furniture in my parent's bedroom. Perhaps that has something to do with my utter distaste for any type of "curly" furnishings.

Next time you take a trip down memory lane with your own family photos, see what you notice about the furnishings from your childhood homes. You might even recognize where your present taste -- or distaste -- for certain décor comes from.

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